Monday, October 3, 2016

Dying to go to Mars

Strata at Base of Mount Sharp -   NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
(All images: click to enlarge,)

"Dying to go to Mars? You soon might have the option.

As early as 2025, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, plans to get humans to Mars. Mission “Heart of Gold,”  (in honor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), could carry up to 100 people — with a “high” chance that participants could die.

The Guardian, a British publication, asked readers if they would be willing to risk their lives for this Martian outer-space adventure. Those who said yes were young, male and mostly American, and offered varied reasons, from taking out-of-this-world photos to dressing like a Jedi."

- From the Forbes article: Would You Risk Your Life To Travel To Mars? Elon Musk Offers The Chance -- & Many Are Ready

"Why go to Mars? Life on Mars has potential life-saving possibilities for everyone on earth. Depleting water supplies, overwhelming climate change, and a host of other disasters—from terrorist attacks to meteor strikes—all loom large. We must become a space-faring species to survive. We have the technology not only to get humans to Mars, but to convert Mars into another habitable planet. It will likely take 300 years to “terraform” Mars, as the jargon goes, but we can turn it into a veritable second Garden of Eden. And we can live there, in specially designed habitations, within the next twenty years." 

-  From the Simon and Schuster (TED Books) page for How We'll Live on Mars by Stephen Petranek. (see video below)

"The elegance of this mission, from a financial perspective at least, is that I wouldn't necessarily be coming back, sparing mission planners the need for a return vehicle. I'd wander the landscape and keep myself alive and healthy for as long as possible, awaiting eventual relief from a more robust crewed mission. It's quite possible I could "live off the land" indefinitely, giving me enough time to really take in the sights: the soaring slopes of Olympus Mons, the labyrinthine fractures of Valles Marineris, the enigmatic massifs of Cydonia."

- Mac Tonnies from a 4/25/06 Posthuman Blues post reposted here.


Sorry for such a long absence. I intended to post a few times in the past 2 months, notably on Mac's birthday (August 20), but, truthfully, nothing moved me very much... no news inspired me, and life had a bad habit of getting in my way. (Come to think of it, it still does!)

I had started to gather information about Tabby's Star and Dyson's Spheres (my own interpretation, inset, right), but despite loads of hype, hoopla, and Kickstarter campaigns... well, no real joy there. When it comes to massive artificial structures, I'm more inclined to reconsider the reality of our Moon (and this, from Red Ice).

And, then, there's Proxima Centauri b - a possibly habitable planet - discovered in August of this year. Pretty exciting, right? Um, well, as (soberly) reminds us: Is the Nearest Alien Planet Proxima b Habitable? 'It's Complicated'. In other words, no real joy there, either.

Instead, what drew me back to Mac's memorial was... well, what else (?)... Mars! Yes, thanks to NASA (!) - and tech hero (and, rightly so) Elon Musk - I finally found some news I could sink my tiny vampiric teeth into...

Ius Chasma Hydrated Mineralogy - HiRISE/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

To begin with, what do you make of the photo above? Is it art? Well, yes and no. While it looks like a fairly competent abstraction - no better, no worse, than something you might find at the MoMA, it is in fact the collaborative work of HiRISE/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona... In other words, if you haven't identified it already, it's the surface of Mars (!). In fact, it is merely one example of over a thousand similar abstractions found here. (Hat-tip to Tech Crunch!)

Then again, if, like me, you'd really like to know what you're looking at - well, sort of - then you might try this latest group of Curiosity snapshots courtesy of NASA/JPL- Caltech/MSSS, from which the amazing photo introducing this post - and the equally amazing ones below -were found.

 "Bagnold Dunes" lining the northwestern edge of Mount Sharp - NASA/JPL- Caltech/MSSS 

Seemingly dry, desolate, haunted and weird - often looking like a demolition site (or, depending upon your point of view, a series of archaeological digs) - the planet of Mars has been attracting humans (& their imaginations) for a Very Long Time. And, as things become increasingly dismal on our own planet, many intelligent and influential people - the mavericks (and dreamers) in our midst - are beginning to consider that maybe, just maybe, the Red Planet offers the last chance of survival for the human species. Who am I to argue?

'Confidence Hills'  Drilling Site -  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

One of these mavericks is investor & inventor, Elon Musk... and we all should feel quite fortunate that he's made himself a billionaire; because it's going to take a lot more than big dreams and good intentions to get to Mars; it's going to take big, big bucks... massive bucks... and very many brave, brave people.

And, make no mistake, it takes more than bucks to make a hero, it takes resolve in the face of setbacks... which is why Elon Musk particularly fills the bill. In spite of SpaceX's recent loss regarding Falcon 9 (see Space News articles here, here, and here), his enthusiasm for Mars has not waned. For an excellent article about Musk and Mars, see the recent Daily Grail article: Elon Musk Wants to Make Humans a Multiplanetary Species, in Our Lifetime (with videos). 

From the Wired article: "Musk says he hopes to have the first developmental spaceship ready to operate in about three years. If things go super well, the one could be ready to depart in about 10 years.

But he’s hedgy: “I don’t want to say that’s when this will occur.” And success is not a foregone conclusion. 'This is a huge amount of risk, will cost a lot, and there’s a good chance we won’t succeed,” he says. “But we’re going to try and do our best.'"

Marias Pass -  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Of course, "dying to go to Mars" - the ultimate one-way trip -  is not a new prospect. There are a number of manned missions to Mars tentatively in the works. The Dutch company Mars One made the news a couple of years ago, publicly searching for volunteer astronauts willing to lay their lives on the line for a trip to Mars scheduled for 2022. 10,000 people applied. And, these days, I bet there'd be many, many more.

Yes, Mars is beckoning we Earthlings now more than ever before; it's become a regular vacation destination. NASA, Russia, China... even the American Company, Lockeed Martin, has its own plans for a Mars Base CampAnd, while I am by no means an optimistic person, my guess is that somebody will get us there sooner or later. Will it happen in our lifetimes? Probably not mine; but maybe yours. ;-)

Mount Sharp -  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Then again, as is so very often the case, I just found this prescient quote by Mac on Posthuman Blues from a 2007 post:

"There's a strange symmetry at work here: if Earth becomes intolerably hot within the next 100-200 years, we might discover that Mars has taken the first steps toward effectively terraforming itself, making it that much more important in terms of human settlement. Ironically, our trashing of Earth's climate may hasten our first efforts to colonize Mars, thereby helping to ensure the human legacy isn't wiped out in some quite unguessable orgy of destruction."

(Past Post-Mac Blues posts on this subject: One Way Trip to Mars! No, really! and Men on Mars.)

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